Why are there so many women in HR?

15/07/2013 at 21:08 40 comments

Women in HR

I know that I am probably heading into dangerous waters by asking this question; but why are there so many women in HR and what – if any – are the consequences?

In US as well as Europe, HR is totally dominated by women. In US the number is close to 70%; 71% of HR managers according to the Forbes List of the Top 10 Best-Paying Jobs for Women in 2011 and 69% of HR professionals based on a study by HRxAnalysts.

Women’s domination of HR has even extended to the CHRO ranks, despite the persistent belief that men still occupy the vast majority of the top jobs. 67% of all VP’s of HR posts are now held by women.

In Europe the picture is pretty much the same. In UK, 72% of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) members are women. Here in Denmark the picture is the same – just above 70% of people employed in HR are female.

What may surprise some is that the proportion of women in HR has been rising over the last 10-15 years. In UK in 1997 the proportion was 63.8% and then steadily rose to 79,3% in 2007 since when it has been flat. The same is true both  in Denmark where the rise was notable between 2000-2008 as well as in US.

Numbers and statistics can sometimes be deceptive. But not in this case. Personally, when I speak to groups of HR people or meet with HR as a consultant, I will mostly meet with a woman.  John Sumser said in 2011 following a large study, that “HR is a 47 year old white woman” in US. From my own experience I certainly see what the numbers are telling me.

And this picture is unlikely to change. Looking at universities across the Western World, most of the graduates in HR focused classes are primarily female. Here in Copenhagen, the HRM line at the Copenhagen Business School has 18 men and 132 women attending from what I am told. Also looking at the leadership pipeline, it is most likely that HR will continue to be dominated by women. In UK, 86% of entry level people in HR are female.

The only thing I can see that might change this picture is if HR become more data-orientated, more technology-based, more evidence-based, more financial orientated and yes, more of a science. I was at a Workforce Analytics conference in London earlier this year and most of the participants were men. I am making a lot of assumptions here, but perhaps something like WA will change things?

Why are there more women than men in HR? This is where it becomes dangerous (for me). A few suggestions are

  • Some point towards genetics and biology which – goes the argument – lends itself to the female nature of caring and developing people. They argue that HR is simply more suited for women.
  • Others point towards a long term trend in HR away from the hard core industrial relations (macho and male dominated) to the more developmental psychological HRM which is more feminine in its approach.
  • Some say that some functions are male/female – HR being female, IT being male. The argument goes something like this; with more and more females entering the workforce, HR (together with Communications) attracted more female in the male dominated business world from which men had not intention of letting the power slip away.
  • Others argue that HR simply is less discriminatory and therefore easier for women to enter.

Frankly, I don’t know what the reason is. All I can do is to conclude that there are many women in HR – a trend which has been rising for the last ten years. But why? I would like to hear your view on this one.

The final question must however be; does it matter? This is a classic question in any diversity program; will a company make more money if more of its senior leaders where women and similarly will HR be better and deliver better services if there were more men? Again, I don’t know. But I do believe in general, that the best results – in any function, department and at any level – is achieved with a balanced workforce. Is HR in balance?

Entry filed under: Human Capital Management. Tags: , , .

Prediction #2: HR will outsource a lot more Should HR introduce quota for men?

40 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lisa Quish  |  15/07/2013 at 23:18

    I knew this was the case ever before looking at the Stats. The reason that resonated most with me is the psycological HRM focus, the engagement model, organisation behaviour and design and an increased focus on recognition rather than reward ( in the last eight years). I also think women are more patient and are thus happier to wait a little longer for results which is often the case in HR; embedding a process is time consuming. In my current role my assistant, a young male is naturally good at the analytical and numerical side but is less interested in the wordy side of the role like subgroups, policy writing, delivering training. So in summary we should have a more equal split as we have different and complimenting talents

    Reply
    • 2. Morten Kamp Andersen  |  16/07/2013 at 07:33

      Hi Lisa
      I agree with your comments completely – also your final part.

      Interestingly – and a bit academic – there is a debate about if the differences between men and women are real (ie inherent, biological, nature) or made up (cultural). Are men better at numbers and women more caring or is that just what we say they are? The answer is important to the point about if it matters or not.

      Tnx for your comment
      Have a great day
      Morten

      Reply
    • 3. mariam sohail  |  18/07/2013 at 23:03

      I agree lisa with your comments, women are more patient,more flexible and are great sympathisers which is why they excel in HR.

      Reply
      • 4. Daneil Hamid  |  05/12/2014 at 13:13

        Absolutely wrong. Women never let talented women or men come to HR. The only way women excel in HR is through career protection through friendships and keeping men out of HR.

    • 5. Daneil Hamid  |  05/12/2014 at 13:09

      What you have said above is absolutely wrong.

      Reply
  • […] I know that I am probably heading into dangerous waters by asking this question; but why are there so many women in HR and what – if any – are the consequences? In US as well as Europe, HR is total…  […]

    Reply
  • […] Morten Kamp Andersen: Why Are There So Many Women In HR? A new take on a perennial question for HR.  Morten Kamp looks at data on long-term trends in the gender balance of the HR profession, and offers what he terms some potentially “dangerous” theories as to why HR is such a female-dominated profession. What’s your view on this issue? For further reading, see also: Is ‘pink-collar ghetto’ an apt term for the HR profession? Follow Morten on Twitter. […]

    Reply
  • […] is primarily staffed by women. That is a fact. Whichever way you look at it, when you call HR you will most likely speak to a woman. HR is best […]

    Reply
    • 9. Daneil Hamid  |  05/12/2014 at 13:24

      Yes, It must be a compulsory 30% plus Quota.

      Reply
  • 10. Tim Baker  |  14/08/2013 at 09:32

    I think it’s true that there are more female HR Generalists, but is this also true for the specialist functions? I would expect that the recruitment function has a more balanced representation and probably OD and as you mention, certainly HRIS. In my experience in executive search, I see men specialising earlier and women going down the Generalist route.

    Reply
    • 11. Morten Kamp Andersen  |  14/08/2013 at 09:37

      Hi Tim,

      I think you are right – it varies from area to area within HR, although with 70% female, you would suspect most areas to have more female than male.

      From my own experience, I went to a large Workforce Analytics conference in London and the far majority were male. When I work with HR partners (generalists) they are almost exclusively female. Looking at vendors and consultants – they are mostly male. But this is just my own observations from my post in Europe.

      Tnx for your comment
      /Morten

      Reply
  • […] Morten Kamp: Why Are There So Many Women In HR? A new take on a perennial question for HR.  Morten Kamp looks at data on long-term trends in the gender balance of the HR profession, and offers what he terms some potentially “dangerous” theories as to why HR is such a female-dominated profession. What’s your view on this issue? For further reading, see also: Is ‘pink-collar ghetto’ an apt term for the HR profession? Follow Morten on Twitter. […]

    Reply
  • […] Morten Kamp Andersen: Why Are There So Many Women In HR? A new take on a perennial question for HR.  Morten Kamp looks at data on long-term trends in the gender balance of the HR profession, and offers what he terms some potentially “dangerous” theories as to why HR is such a female-dominated profession. What’s your view on this issue? For further reading, see also: Is ‘pink-collar ghetto’ an apt term for the HR profession? Follow Morten on Twitter. […]

    Reply
  • 14. Rchilli Parser  |  21/10/2013 at 15:09

    Well it’s a women territory for a longer time and they match the basic traits required for managing human resource. Going with the psychological reasons, they have a better edge in understanding humans and giving reasons accordingly.

    Reply
  • 15. Mehsam Ali  |  31/10/2013 at 20:22

    Hi Morten, i think this is a great bit of reading, and more so is the broadness of the topic.

    Having grduated in hr and worked for both a private sector and public sector businesses/ organisations, i feel the hr strategy plays more of a role in highlighting this area of male and female concentrated occupations.

    At uni we studied an article by ben lupton asking why men go into female concentrated occupations? The article suggested that there were many reasons such as ; – the glass elevator , low testosterone levels etc. my experinces tell me that most of these findings are not true or are no longer relevant for example with the shift of gender equality, e.g maternity leave is no longer a dead set negative in a peomotion application. I do however believe that the more iron fist strategy to keep employees disciplined and sickness absence low etc is pushed towards male Hr people as this highlights there strength of being tough and the no nonsence attitude. However my current hr director is female and her agenda is all about ‘people’. Therefore highlighting the mother approach compared to the father approach. I agree with lisa but dare to belive we are still stuck in a pre historic era! I also think tgat women look to employee women.. And keep the power within that gender. But id love to hear more than just the stereotypical ideology of men being manual were as women being phsycological!

    Reply
    • 16. Jessie  |  02/02/2015 at 22:11

      Mesham, I believe your proposition that “women look to employee women” is truer than many will admit. I am a 60 year old male with 34 years of diverse HR experience. You think I have a prayer at an HR job while competing against a younger, attractive female? I interviewed for an manufacturer’s HR Manager position recently. One of the phone interviewers was a young woman. She asked me point blank, site unseen, if I had the “energy required to perform the job”. The white older male is now the minority. Welcome to reverse discrimination.

      Reply
  • 17. Mehsam Ali  |  31/10/2013 at 20:23

    Hi Morten, i think this is a great bit of reading, and more so is the broadness of the topic.

    Having grduated in hr and worked for both a private sector and public sector businesses/ organisations, i feel the hr strategy plays more of a role in highlighting this area of male and female concentrated occupations.

    At uni we studied an article by ben lupton asking why men go into female concentrated occupations? The article suggested that there were many reasons such as ; – the glass elevator , low testosterone levels etc. my experinces tell me that most of these findings are not true or are no longer relevant for example with the shift of gender equality, e.g maternity leave is no longer a dead set negative in a peomotion application. I do however believe that the more iron fist strategy to keep employees disciplined and sickness absence low etc is pushed towards male Hr people as this highlights there strength of being tough and the no nonsence attitude. However my current hr director is female and her agenda is all about ‘people’. Therefore highlighting the mother approach compared to the father approach. I agree with lisa but dare to belive we are still stuck in a pre historic era! I also think tgat women look to employee women.. And keep the power within that gender. But id love to hear more than just the stereotypical ideology of men being manual were as women being phsycological!
    P.s Think i may have beaten round the bush abit here!

    Reply
    • 18. Morten Kamp Andersen  |  04/11/2013 at 20:36

      Hi Mehsam,

      Thanks for contributing. I agree that we need to get away from ‘men being manual and women being psychological’ and broaden the topic.

      I often see men/women issue being highlighted and adressed in management, but other areas are also interesting for me to understand the topic. I think basic bias tendencies – both ways – for men to hire men and women to hire women is quite strong. But this is probably only one of many explanations.

      Thx for contributing.
      Morten

      Reply
  • […] Why are there so many women in HR? […]

    Reply
  • […] datos son contundentes y reflejan lo que parece una tendencia global. En países como Estados Unidos, UK o Canadá las mujeres representan ya en torno al 70% de los […]

    Reply
  • 21. jennifer morgan  |  26/01/2014 at 04:53

    I honestly believe this is a field in which women are more qualified using learned skills are less judge mental and are equal in their skills of managing a company’s workforce. If it becomes more technology based ,i don’t feel that would be in the best interest of the growth of their personell.

    Reply
  • 22. james johnson  |  06/02/2014 at 02:31

    I do agree based on academic reasoning since I have reasently 2013 Graduated College. I am a male who wanted to pursue a degree in HR not in the sense that I wanted to enter the job force within a corporation or small to mdsize company. I primarily wanted to start my own company and build a great business within the Food industry. (Which I am currently doing). The focus was on human capital and understanding the hiring process, proceedures and policies that govern a business and how the HR depart plays its role in providing the necessary capital to ensure quality and value to a business. I new practical knowledge was and would be a challenge based on that I never worked in a HR department before. (Still want to) for experience sake. Based on external experiences through trying to acquire employement by a company it was and is still difficult for me to enter the HR field since just as the article reads, 70% of females are in the HR field. It is difficult based on gender bias and favoritism within the HR field to only acquire based on gender. I believe that this should change due to the fact that if the department who handles hiring and governace of human capital within an organization is mostly one gender then why are they not trying to push for more equality in pay and benefits when they control 100% of the personnell within the company. They (females) want equality in the workplace and equal pay but do not want to hire men that are qualified for jobs within thier company due to thier own agenda or other unknown reasons. You cannot have it one way or another thier needs to be a common ground. The thought of being in control of the hiring process and helping others is ideal for me. I enjoy it but when people judge others or even suggest that a department is defined by one gender or another this is not right especially when they control the company as far as the personnell within it.

    Reply
    • 23. Daneil Hamid  |  05/12/2014 at 13:47

      James, you are absolutely right. Women don’t want talented women and men to join HR because talented women and men would increase the standard of HR which these 70% insecure and untalented women cannot meet.

      The government should enforce 30% plus quota for men. And men should not be denied from HR jobs, Promotions or any other opportunities within HR.

      Reply
  • 24. Greg  |  14/07/2014 at 08:52

    I always wanted to go into HR as I have a psych degree and business minor. My strongest characteristics are empathy and caring for people yet I have a lot of experience in business management. However, I noticed women dominate HR and thought I wouldn’t even be considered if I tried. It’s a little frustrating. The HR at my old company would always talk about how all the district HR’s are women and they have lunch meetings together and have “girl” time. Seems to be some gender bias but maybe I’m wrong.

    Reply
    • 25. Daneil Hamid  |  05/12/2014 at 13:00

      Greg, you are absolutely correct 100%.

      But please join HR because this disastrous tragedy has to be stopped by talented men and women.

      Reply
  • 26. Daneil Hamid  |  05/12/2014 at 12:57

    HR is at the brink of complete disaster. Men please join HR, create a good balance of diversity and save HR.

    I think that women managed to take over HR because they were in secretarial roles which expanded to HR roles in many companies. Now when women find themselves in huge majority in HR, they find this field secure and less competitive because of small number of men.

    Women are strongly discouraging new men stepping into HR therefore a lot of men have given up, either not start HR as career or changing career after being bullied and harassed and discouraged by women HR mafia.

    The government must step in and enforce the equality and diversity act in this field because DESTRUCTION OF HR = DESTRUCTION OF COMPANIES = DESTRUCTION OF COUNTRY’S ECONOMY = DESTRUCTION OF HUMAN TALENT

    Please Please Please save HR, and save the world.

    P.S. (I am not saying women are less talented then men, I am just saying that HR seriously and dangerously lacks talented women and men)

    Reply
  • 27. unemployedhrgraduate  |  26/02/2015 at 03:33

    Very interesting post! Im currently been applying for HR jobs at the moment and to think of it, I only have come across only one male during my application, out of maybe nearly 100ish applications so far.

    What you said about in classes is so true! In my class, only about 20-30% were male. Most of the females in my lectures have found jobs in HR, however 4 out of my 5 close male friends have found a job in HR. So hopefully it’s not all bad!

    Some of my male friends suggested that with HR being dominated by females, it is very hard for us guys to break into and may be subjected to discrimination based on our gender.

    I’m new to this whole blogging things and have decided to blog my job hunt and breaking into HR. I’ve just discovered your blog and found it very useful and interesting. Keep up with the good work!

    unemployedhrgraduate.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • 28. Joe  |  12/03/2015 at 23:57

    Why are there so many women in HR? Simple: Women are less intelligent and HR requires almost no intelligence. It’s like asking why there are so many male physicists. Men are more intelligent, and being a physicist requires tons of intelligence. Also, women love vacuous human interaction, which a “career” in HR will provide plenty. Bottom line: HR is where the most useless and least intelligent employees at any company end up, and these are almost always women.

    Reply
  • 29. Godfrey  |  16/04/2015 at 13:56

    Women excel in HR because they are good in sweet-talking, loyalty, fairness and equity, showing love, and therapy.They are described as ‘sweet’ because they show love and care and smile when meeting someone they know well.They are also very warm, welcoming, cordial and understanding.The genetics tell it all.

    Reply
  • 30. poolboy  |  28/07/2015 at 15:59

    i wrote about this recently on my website.. i found your blog because quite frankly i’m tired of the white female wall i have to go through at every job..

    the job i have now.. i was interviewed by a white male, a white female, and a black female all at once and i was obviously hired

    but 95% of the time its just a pure wall of white women whom i am apparently unable to please

    it is just awful.. men are screwed in this society.. even with education.. i have a 4yr degree but they hire white girls at my job right out of high school and they pay them more than me.. despite my education and seniority

    i try to leave my job and look for other ones because its so unfair- yet every job i apply to is an army of white women who think “you’re not a good fit”

    i feel that i am being judged on criteria that i don’t understand.. i am a good employee i have worked at my current job for over a year, you would think an employer would see that and say “hey he’s dedicated” but nope.. its awful.. men need employment but we try and try and try and get nowhere

    Reply
  • 31. chad  |  18/12/2015 at 20:52

    HR doesn’t really involve as much math and logic nor project management. Sounds sexist, but women shy away from math centric jobs. Engineering is dominated by men. Don’t like it, become inspired by math and science subjects.

    Reply
    • 32. Jim  |  23/12/2015 at 14:55

      It’s impossible to discuss this topic without ‘crossing over’ to sexist generalities, but I’m going to step out on the thin ice anyway. I think some highly talented, high potential women have seen HR as the career path with the fewest discriminatory obstacles to get to the highest levels in the organization. Other more aggressive women have preferred to take on men on their home field and have done so with less success than those who went the HR path. Also, I don’t think the statement ‘women shy away from math centric jobs’ is valid as evidenced by the growing percentage of female CFO’s over these past several years.

      Poolboy> In your post, change the word man/men to woman/women and vise versa and your post could have been written by almost any woman in the 1950’s when, if they were young and pretty and willing to put up with sexual harassment, they could get the low paying clerical job, but they could never be promoted into management and they were terminated if they got pregnant.

      I am a white male HR Manager with a staff of one male and three females. One of the females (not young, not pretty) is my successor not because she’s female, but because she’s the best leader.

      Reply
  • […] the last place a startup will be putting real money is into some solid HR, a role statistically assumed by women.) Women are constantly on the lookout for too many exclamation points in a work email, too […]

    Reply
  • 34. mraemiller  |  05/05/2016 at 05:54

    Because management think we think with our penises and thus women are better tools for disseminating bad news

    Reply
  • […] is their demographic? Typically, it is a female employee who reads your information at this stage, based on HR demographics. Usually, it’s someone in a junior or mid-level […]

    Reply
  • 36. EMT  |  19/05/2016 at 11:21

    Yes, it’s true and this imbalance in HR isn’t good for attractive women who manage to get an interview but don’t end up getting hired into professional positions out of jealousy.

    Reply
  • 37. Kent  |  30/07/2016 at 16:27

    Anyone who thinks that females are more “benign” than males are seriously deluded. the capacity to be petty, mean-spirited, biased, and bullying is not confined to men. Some above have referred to the “female interview wall” that must be scaled to get a job. If these women detect that a male applicant is too rigid and not “inclusive,” (highly valued traits among women to women relationships) then forget about getting that job. Stark competitiveness that is the bread and butter in a male world, sets off alarms in women who have increasingly shaped company policy requirements both internally and now, in written forms. These value systems contain ideals such as, “inclusiveness,” “accepting,” “supportive,” and “flexible,” to name a few. The domination of HR by females is the Trojan horse that will either blunt, or doom, the highly competitive requirements that many companies must have to compete successfully in the market place. For example, those females that dominate HR will be quick to condemn the lack of “diversity” in the tech world. The 80% female dominated sector, blind to their own bias, will seek to make the male dominated sectors more “inclusive,” “fair,” and “welcoming” to women. The very traits that women HR leaders inherently have, which drives assessment of others and shapes hiring practices, propels them to undermine environments and cultures where they do not excel. All this is in the name of being “progressive.” The all-too-human impulse to gather like-minded people around yourself is not a “male” trait. Female culture can be just as biased as any “old boys clubs.” Watch HR morph into the “old girls clubs,” and seek to impose their value systems over all other departments. And, because they are the gate keepers now, the “fix” is well on its way.

    Reply
    • 38. duhhh  |  16/08/2016 at 19:37

      Of course… HR is composed of many women because they try to keep it a women’s club.

      Women are naturally sexist, because as the weaker gender, they are programed to beg and grovel for special treatment.

      HR has always been a joke, hard to imagine why they even have it. Its just a bunch of girls acting like they are in middle school.

      So women try to keep it a women’s club, because they feel bitter about their infeoirty as women, so they are desperate for special treatment because men can handle almost anything, but women have to beg for everything to get anywhere in live to compensate for their infeoirty as women to men.

      HR is just a girls-club, because women are too inferior to be equal to men, so they try to discriminate against men because women are only capable of begging and kissing peoples feet for pity.

      Reply
  • 39. duhhh  |  16/08/2016 at 19:32

    HR is composed of many women because they try to keep it a women’s club.

    Women are naturally sexist, because as the weaker gender, they are programed to beg and grovel for special treatment.

    HR has always been a joke, hard to imagine why they even have it. Its just a bunch of girls acting like they are in middle school.

    So women try to keep it a women’s club, because they feel bitter about their infeoirty as women, so they are desperate for special treatment because men can handle almost anything, but women have to beg for everything to get anywhere in live to compensate for their infeoirty as women to men.

    HR is just a girls-club, because women are too inferior to be equal to men, so they try to discriminate against men because women are only capable of begging and kissing peoples feet for pity.

    Reply
  • 40. Ariel Cunningham  |  27/02/2017 at 08:59

    Thankfulness to my father who shared with me on the topic of this blog, this web site is really awesome.

    Reply

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